How to Plan a Reception After a Funeral

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At a time of sorrow, gathering with loved ones for a shared meal can be a healing experience. Luncheons or receptions after a funeral create a more casual setting in which family and friends of the deceased can come together to share stories and connect.

There are various ways in which to organize this type of gathering, depending on your religious traditions and background. You’ll want to consider logistical and financial realities, as there will likely be costs involved. Decide how many people will likely attend. Will everyone who attends the funeral be invited, or will the reception be limited to close family members? This will impact your choice of location and your plans for the meal.

You can include details about the reception  in the funeral invitation, if you send one, or in the published notice. If everyone at the funeral is invited, the funeral official or a family member will typically invite those in attendance and provide details about where it’s being held. There’s not typically a set time limit for these types of gatherings.

As for the location, you have several options. You may consider holding a meal in the parlor or social hall of the funeral home, in a banquet hall at your church or other place of worship, at a restaurant, or at someone’s home. If the weather is nice, you could even consider holding it outside at a local park.

It can be comforting to hold a meal at a site that’s meaningful to you and your loved one. When considering having a post-funeral gathering at home, though, keep in mind that hosting in your own home may be a stressful. If you choose to have it at a religious space or funeral home, there may be someone on staff who can help you organize the details.

Planning a menu for a post-funeral gathering or reception

A post-funeral meal is often served potluck style, with a number of people each contributing a dish. Similarly, it’s common for church communities to have a dedicated group of volunteers who prepare the meal after any funeral that occurs within their congregation. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for example, female volunteers who are part of the Relief Society will coordinate the luncheon and prepare the dishes.

Comfort foods are common at these meals, though the specific items vary by region and culture. A Virginia funeral meal might features ham biscuits, for example, while one in Mississippi is seldom without a tomato aspic, according to Southern Living. Among Mormons, one of the most typical dishes is simply called funeral potatoes, Epicurious notes.

You may also consider having the meal catered or pick up prepared food items from a grocery store or deli. When choosing a restaurant, if you go that route, you may want to pick a place that your loved one particularly enjoyed, though of course the capacity, availability, and price are all important factors in that decision.

Other considerations for a post-funeral reception

If flowers were a part of the funeral, you may want to bring them into the space where the luncheon will be held. They can add a welcome brightness and decorative element to the gathering area. You may also want to include photos of the deceased, possibly in the form of a photo wall or memory table.

If the logistics of organizing a post-funeral gathering feel overwhelming, delegate the task to a friend or family member. You can also ask for volunteers to help with specific tasks, such as decorating or coordinating food delivery. Guests will typically appreciate the opportunity to feel useful. And keep in mind that, no matter what’s on the menu or where the gathering is held, the most important thing is to create an event to help the memory of your loved one live on, and to comfort those who are left behind. In the end, that’s what matters most, not the menu or location. 

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